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Ivan Satyavrata: The Holy Spirit

Satyavrata’s introductory pneumatology shows a fair familiarity with western theological tradition. He wrestles with an objective articulation of pneumatology (from an Enlightenment heritage) with the subjective experience of the Spirit in the history of ‘renewal’ (which is really a postmodern re-reading of church history along a pneumatic trajectory). When he defends the proposition that the Spirit is not a force field (even though he does not explicitly state who or what trajectory he is dealing with in rejecting the force field theory), readers familiar with western theological tradition would probably see that apologetic as a response to Wolfhart Pannenberg’s scientific force-field pneumatological theory, and even possibly Jurgen Moltmann’s pneumatology. When Satyavrata alludes to Scripture as the common theological commitment or concurrences foundational for his work, he is not only affirming the common Spirit in the Church, but he is showing sensitivity to the different trajectories concerning pneumatology that have developed in the history of Christianity. Of course, in all of these examples, Satyavrata neither expands nor develops his pneumatology in dialogue with the western traditions.

In The Holy Spirit, Satyavrata offers some glimpse of an Asian voice. He intentionally weaves into his writings Asian stories, and particularly from his Indian heritage. In these anecdotal accounts, he attempts to make theological connections and shows how his Asian understanding of the pneumatic, or of the spirits, should be understood according to the norms of Christian pneumatology. While I appreciate and agree with his theological assessments as he relates to typical Asian Indian conceptions, I also wonder about the ‘Asian-ness’ of his proposal. Essentially, if theology is to be teased out in context, I wondered if Satyavrata’s is no more than a pneumatology from a limited Indian perspective. Of course, a crucial question is – how Asian must it get for it to be considered ‘Asian’ pneumatology? Does giving anecdotal narratives necessarily make a theology Asian? Does critical engagement render it Asian? Satyavrata has presented concisely a pneumatology in the light of some aspects of his Indian Asian experience, but his proposal however remains too constricted within a ‘western’ mould. Perhaps, as a contrast, American Korean theologian Moonjang Lee has in a number of his essays provided an alternative Asian theology, one that is a deeply critical engagement with aspects of Asian cultural conceptions. The fundamental question when it comes to theology in context is of course, is as Richard Niebuhr had set out in Christ and Culture, or as conservative evangelical scholar D.A. Carson had proposed in Christ and Culture Revisited and The Gagging of God, how much engagement makes a theology authentically contextual – for culture, against culture, transforming culture? Satyavrata’s proposal bears too much in its conceptual form and substance with ‘western’ articulations of pneumatology. It is surprising that Satyavrata’s pneumatology in Asian perspective has not registered the dynamic work of the Spirit in the House Church Movement in China, in the world’s largest church in South Korea, in the persecuted churches in the Middle East, in Indonesia, and North Korea, just to name a few. These are not just some minor ‘awakening’ episodes, but significant interfaces of the Spirit in their respective cultures. The lessons on pneumatology herein can hardly be ignored when one considers pneumatology on the Asian ground.

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Category: In Depth, Summer 2010

About the Author: Timothy Teck Ngern Lim, M.Div. (BGST, Singapore), Ph.D. (Regent University), is a Visiting Lecturer for London School of Theology and Research Tutor for King's Evangelical Divinity School (London). He is on the advisory board of One in Christ (Turvey) and area book review editor for Evangelical Review of Society & Politics. He is an evangelical theologian ordained as a Teaching Elder with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He has published in ecclesiology, ecumenical theology, and interdisciplinarity. A recent monograph published entitled Ecclesial Recognition with Hegelian Philosophy, Social Psychology, and Continental Political Theory: An Interdisciplinary Proposal (Brill, 2017).

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